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Postcards from Erica January 2024

Trying to find unaccompanied cello music by Hispanic and Latino/Latina composers? Look no further. 

Postcards from Erica January 2024

This month, I’m sending you the tenth installment in this year’s series of postcards on unaccompanied works for cello by Hispanic and Latino/Latina composers. You can find my previous installments here.

I created my online “just-the-facts-ma’am”-style digital postcards to introduce listeners to new-to-you cello music and to help cellists, orchestra directors, cello teachers, and students seeking new repertoire, contest pieces, and supplemental literature.

These monthly postcards give you the information you need to help you choose a piece that’s right for you. I also include links to make it easy for you to locate and purchase the sheet music you want. I hope you enjoy exploring these pieces as much as I did selecting them.

You can also read a quick round-up of my postcards featuring works by Black composers, my series featuring women composers, or revisit all of my postcards.

January Postcard #1: Prelude & Bossa Nova No. 2, “alla Chitarra” by Horacio Fernandez Vázquez

Horacio Fernandez Vázquez was born in Puebla, Mexico, and moved to New York City in 2018 to study at the Julliard School. From his bio: “In the vibrant tapestry of contemporary Latin music, Horacio Fernández shines as a visionary Mexican composer and producer. He is an artist not bound by any genre or style, being able to produce fiery Latin Rap records such as ‘FLARE,’ as well as soothing orchestral ballads like his hit song ‘Rebeldes’ and catchy pop songs such as ‘Dímelo.’”

  • Title: Prelude & Bossa Nova No. 2, “alla Chitarra”
  • Composer: Horacio Fernandez Vázquez
  • Year Composed: 2019
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 2
  • Duration: 7:20
  • Number of Pages: 5
  • Number of Measures: 153
  • Tempo: Prelude – quarter note = 50; Bossa Nova – quarter = 50, half note = 86, quarter note = 50, 80
  • Difficulty Level: advanced
  • Highest Position Reached: 6th
  • Technique Employed: 2/4, 3/4, 4/4, 5/4 time signatures; bass and tenor clefs, pizzicato, left-hand pizzicato, and guitar strumming techniques; hammer-ons, pull-offs, left and right-hand slaps, thumb slaps, cello tapping; harmonics, glissandos, quintuplets, and septuplets
  • Publisher: composer
  • Where to Obtain: horaciofernandezcomposer.com
  • Cost of Sheet Music*: $25

Recording

Performance Notes

Prelude and Bossa Nova No. 2 is a work that builds upon the growing foundations of extended cello pizzicato technique. In collaboration with the composer, this piece has been edited and shaped to be as idiomatic as possible while still pushing the instrument in new ways.

Several key extended techniques included hammer-ons, pull-offs, slaps, and fingerstyle pizzicato. Hammer-ons (H) require the player to use the left hand to strike and hold down the specified note, causing it to ring. Hammer-ons characteristically produce more resonance in lower positions and on strings that are already vibrating. Pull-offs (+), commonly referred to as left-hand pizzicati, require the player to pluck the string with the fingers of the left hand, often while leaving other fingers depressed behind the plucking finger. When combined, hammer-ons and pull-offs allow for fluid pizzicato passages.

Slaps are denoted with X noteheads, and R and L indicate the respective hand with which to perform a “full” slap, in which the flattened hand slaps and holds all four strings to cut off all resonance. In contrast, the usage of the thumb symbol indicates a right-hand thumb slap, in which a rapid wrist rotation slaps the indicated strings. Thumb slaps should allow the resonance of the non-slapped strings to continue ringing.

Large sections of this piece were designed to be played with fingerstyle pizzicato, modeled after classical guitar technique. In fingerstyle position, the fingers of the right hand point “upwards” toward the scroll and focus principally on playing the mel. At the same time, the thumb rests above the bottom strings and plays the bass material. The rotated position of the hand allows it to rest neutrally over the entire fingerboard, avoiding the continual adjustment of the right arm demanded by traditional pizzicato position. While not notated, constant oscillation between fingerstyle and traditional position is required in this piece and is up to the discretion of the player. In general, upward-pointed stems are intended to be played with the fingers, while downward-pointed stems are to be played with the thumb.

Above all, Prelude and Bossa Nova No. 2 is a lyrical work. In addition to the extended techniques described here, care must be taken with the more rudimentary elements of pizzicato technique. In particular, keep the fingers depressed as long as possible in order to achieve legato-like sounds, and experiment with right-hand placement to vary between brighter and darker tonal colors as the music requires.

As a cautionary, measures 108 and 115 require extreme left-hand wrist rotation. – Philip Sheegog

Cellists’ Guide

Prelude and Bossa Nova No. 2 is the result of a collaboration between composer Horacio Fernandez Vázquez and cellist Philip Sheegog-both Julliard students at the time. Vázquez was inspired to write this piece by his cousin, José Luis Fernández-a guitarist and cellist, who applies guitar technique to his cello playing.

The work offers a fresh approach to cello composition. Though hammer-ons, slapping, and pull-offs are now fairly standard fare in contemporary cello playing, fingerstyle pizzicato is not. Even those of us familiar with “extended techniques” will find new challenges in this work.

I am thankful (and I think you will be as well) to have two available recordings of this piece to help make sense of the score. Trying to figure out how to unite all of the various elements of the work made my head hurt. If you are up for the challenge, Prelude & Bossa Nova No. 2 will provide you with the opportunity to learn new cello technique. I look forward to future work by this composer.

Postcard #2: Fugue by George Frederic Handel, transcribed for cello by Gaspar Cassadó

Catalan cellist and composer Gaspar Cassadó was a contemporary of Pablo Casals who published 25 pieces during his life (many of which are now out of print). Following WWI, Cassadó began touring Europe and became renowned as a performer. By one estimate, 64 of his unpublished scores now reside at Tamagawa University’s Museum of Educational Heritage in Japan, bequeathed by Cassadó’s late wife, pianist Chieko Hara.

  • Title: Fugue
  • Composer: George Frederic Handel, transcribed for cello by Gaspar Cassadó
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 1
  • Duration of Work: 2:30
  • Number of Measures: 100
  • Number of Pages: 2
  • Tempo: Vivace
  • Level of Difficulty: advanced
  • Highest Position Reached: 6th, but with low thumb position
  • Technique Employed: bass clef, 3/4 time signature, double and triple stops; grace notes
  • Publisher: various
  • Where to Obtain: IMSLP
  • Where to Obtain in Countries where this Score is Not Public Domain: Southwest Strings
  • Cost of Sheet Music*: free for residents where this is public domain, $7.95 elsewhere

Recording

Program Notes

This fugue was written for organ or pianoforte by Handel and transcribed for cello by Cassado. Though this piece was not originally written for cello, it has sometimes been attributed to Cassadó, writing in the style of Handel. The score for VI fugues for organ is included here (starting on page 10), should you wish to compare the original (#3) in the key of D Major to the Cassadó transcription, which is written in the key of C major.

Cellist’s Guide

Though this fugue is written entirely in bass clef and is rhythmically simple, it is technically challenging. This piece is packed with thirds, sixths, and octaves, so if you are tired of practicing Popper etudes, give this a go!

Postcard #3: Prisme Du Sud, Suite pour violoncelle solo by Esteban Benzecry

Born in Portugual, raised in Argentina, and a citizen of France since 2011, composer Esteban Benzecry’s compositions fuse Latin American rhythms with the diverse aesthetic currents of European contemporary music. He remains one of the most performed and commissioned Argentinian composers of his generation.

  • Title: Prisme Du Sud, Suite pour violoncelle solo
  • Composer: Esteban Benzecry
  • Year Composed: 2004
  • Instrumentation: unaccompanied cello
  • Movements: 5
  • Duration of Work: 18’
  • Number of Measures: 115, 228, 132, 112, 159
  • Number of pages: 26
  • Tempo: quarter note = 80, 100; dotted quarter note = 90; quarter note = 75, 85; quarter note = 114; quarter note = 100
  • Level of Difficulty: advanced/professional
  • Highest Position Reached: thumb
  • Technique Employed: bass, tenor, and treble clefs; 6/16, 9/16, 14/16, 2/4, 3/4, 5/4, and 6/4 time signatures; triplets, quintuplets, sextuplets, and nonuplets; triple and quadruple stops; pizzicato and left-hand pizzicato; harmonics, tremolo, glissandos, grace notes, double stops, sul ponticello, and dietro ponticello (playing the string below the bridge); jeté, col legno
  • Publisher: composer
  • Where to Obtain: For the digital score please send a message to contact@estebanbenzecry.com
  • Cost of Sheet Music*: 15 Euros

Recording

Program Notes

The rays of pre-Columbian culture are broken down through the prism of a contemporary composer into the colors of various ancestral dances, songs, and invocations. They reveal a musical language of our days, mirroring a Cycle of the Life around an imaginary folklore, in the line of Bartók, Ginastera, Revueltas, Chávez and Villalobos.

I. The Birth of the Sun Aymará
The Aymará culture is pre-Columbian and developed in northern Argentina, Bolivia, and part of Peru.

This piece begins with the darkness of the night, symbolized by the deeper sound of the cello. Little by little we can evoke the first rays of the sun in the pizzicati in its harmonics.

As the day begins, we hear what will be the dominant theme of this movement: a clear rhythm of “baguala” (sad song), given by the pizzicati of the left hand, and then sung with the bow.

II. Scherzo-Karnavalito
The Carnavalito (small carnival) is a joyful dance, represented in this work by childish joys. The rhythmic vitality of this section demands virtuosity from the performer.

III. Adagio Meditativo
This piece is the most introspective of the suite.

In it, we can guess the tune of a vidala (song of the plain (pampa) Argentina, very rhapsodic, very evocative, and in the character of an improvisation. Being reaches maturity.

IV. Intermezzo Dramatico
This piece is part of imaginary folklore.

We find the symbol of mature beings who unite their lives in the speech of the different voices which sometimes diverge, dialogue, and sing in double chords.

V. Toccata Lumineuse and Tanguetto
Here, the composer’s prism gives us three elements. First, a pentatonic introduction, invokes the birth of the Sun. Then comes a form characteristic of European music: the Toccata, but constructed with a motif and a rhythm with an South American imprint. Little by little, this mixes with a third, melodic figuration which makes us remember the tango, one of the popular manifestations of Argentina, as if, through the disappearance (the death?) of pre-Columbian cultures, we find its rebirth in new cultures. – Esteban Benzecry

Cellist’s Guide

This suite is beautifully cohesive, yet each movement stands nicely on its own. If you are looking for a new recital work to stand in place of a sonata, I think this would be a good choice. Or, if you need a short piece to fill out a program, why not choose a movement or two?

The ancient quality of Prisme Du Sud is quite captivating. It reminds me of the music of George Crumb, but with a much more accessible score. The rhythm, though quite varied and interesting, does not require lots of slash marks to keep track of beats. Nor does the time signature change constantly. Also, the print is sizable and dark, making the score easy to read!

Benzecry makes full use of the cello, covering a wide range of the instrument. If you do not have a working knowledge of the full fingerboard, you will after learning this suite! He employs many harmonics, double stops, and open string drones that accompany vertically placed motifs, causing the play to alter traditional finger patterns.

While the left hand is covering a lot of ground, the use of left-hand pizzicato while bowing and various “extended” bowing techniques adds a bit of technical complexity to the right hand. There are also lyric passages, as well as staccato sections, which contrast nicely with the more ethereal elements.



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*Prices given are accurate at the date of the publication of this article. Please check the given links for the current price. The Cello Museum does not control these prices and cannot take responsibility for price changes.

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